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Thursday September 25, 2008

Is it right to say ‘fetch’?

WE ALL know that Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water ...but is it gramatically correct to say “I will fetch you”, i.e. using “fetch” as a replacement for “pick up”?

- Hanita Vishnu, Ipoh

  Fetch” means to go where something or somebody is and bring him/it back. But “pick someone up” means “to go somewhere in your car and collect somebody who is waiting for you” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).

So, “I will fetch you” is correct if you mean you are going from your house to where this person is and bringing him/her back to your house, for example, when you fetch your children from school. If you are driving from your house, it means “I will pick you up and bring you home.”

However, if you are giving a lift to a friend who is going to the same party as you are, you say: “I will pick you up at 8, all right?”

  ‘Baby boy’ or ‘boy baby’?

1. WHICH is correct: “baby boy” or “boy baby”/ “baby girl” or “girl baby”?

2. Are the contractions in the following sentences acceptable?

(a) I’d’ve done the same thing in that situation.

(b) Nobody’d have realised the truth.

3. “I’ll see you in a bit” means “I’ll see you in a short while”. However, I have heard Ryan Seacrest (American Idol) and Lauren Sanchez (So You Think You Can Dance?) say “I’ll see you in a few”. Is “in a few” an American expression?

- MOE Reader

1. We usually say “baby boy” or “baby girl”.

2. (a) I have heard native speakers say “I’d’ve done ...” in informal speech. But in writing, I think “I’d have done ...” or even “I would have done ...” would be preferable. It’s very awkward to have a contraction of three words. And we don’t usually contract “would have” to “would’ve” in writing.

(b) In informal speech, the contractions “house’d” for “house had” seems all right to me.  

(b) “Nobody’d have realised the truth.” sounds odd to me, perhaps because it’s hard to pronounce the two d’s that are so close together in “Nobody’d”. It’s easier to say “Nobody would’ve realised the truth.”, although, in writing it should be “Nobody would have realised the truth.”

3. “I’ll see you in a few.” seems to be an informal expression equivalent to “I’ll see you in a bit.” I can’t be sure if it is exclusively American. I can’t find “in a few” as an idiom in any dictionary, but I’ve seen “I’ll see you in a few.” used informally in some websites.

But ‘revert’ has been used a long time

BELOW is an extract from your answer to a reader’s question published on July 24:

Revert” is used in the wrong sense, as it often is in Malaysian official correspondence. “To revert” means “to return to a former state, or to return to an earlier topic (e.g. of conversation)”.

I just wonder if the above is an appropriate answer since the word “revert” has been so used by big organisations in Malaysia, including banks, for a long time (at least, I would say, half a century) and I doubt these organisations, especially banks that used to send their employees for speciliased training in effective communication, would allow such a slip to exist for so long.

- Kengt, Penang

The fact that big organisations in Malaysia have allowed their staff to use “revert to mean “reply” and “revert to” to mean “reply to” or “get back to” for 50 years, has not changed the meaning of this word in the English language.

I have scoured several reputable dictionaries of British and American English, including the comprehensive 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, and nowhere is “revert” defined as “reply” or “revert to” defined as “reply to” or “get back to” in current or past usage.

“Revert” meaning “to come back to a subject” is used, for example, in:

1) “To revert to what we were discussing before we were interrupted, why do you think Roger Federer is the greatest ever tennis player?”

It would be wrong to use it in the following way:

2) “The bank would revert to you with an explanation and/or decision soon.”

“Revert to” as used in sentence (1) means “go back to (a former subject of discourse) (OED) But unfortunately, in Malaysia, it is often used wrongly when someone wants to say “get back to/reply to (someone)”.

The following are two examples from the Internet of the word “revert used correctly to mean “to go back to a former condition or practice”. The first example comes from the website of the Bank of England, while the second is from that of Bank Negara Malaysia:

“The model assesses the contribution of investment, acquisitions, cash flows and market-to-book values to the determination of debt, and also the tendency of debt to revert to its optimum level.”


“ATM services would continue to be provided for at least 5 continuous hours from 7.00 am to 12 noon. From 1 January 2000 onwards, the ATMs will revert to their normal operating hours from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.”


Name for blackboard cleaner

WHAT do you clean a blackboard with? A duster or an eraser?

My UPSR reference book says “duster”.

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English on page 462:

1) Am Eng - Eraser - a rubber object used to remove pencil or pen marks from paper.

2) Br Eng - Eraser - a thing you use for cleaning marks from a blackboard.

Another thing - is it right to say we clean a blackboard with a blackboard eraser or blackboard duster?


When I was at school in the 1950s, a “duster” was used to clean the blackboard. It wasn’t a piece of cloth, but a piece of felt with a wooden back.

I think older people still use the term “duster” or “blackboard duster” although now, the word “blackboard eraser” is also used, and plastic as well as wood is used for the back.

Here is a link to a UK company selling school equipment that refers to the item as both “blackboard duster” and “blackboard eraser”:


And here’s a quotation from a BBC series on World War II memories:

“I was often involved in playing tricks on certain teachers. One favourite was to place the wooden-backed blackboard duster on top of the classroom door, or on top of the blackboard, so that when the teacher entered the class, or slid up the blackboard - the duster would fall on his head.” (by Don Aiken, born 1925)



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